Last Updated on May 8, 2015 by Paulette Brown-Hinds

By Cynthia E. Griffin
Special to the NNPA from Our Weekly

While the graduation rates of most student groups in the state rose in 2014, the numbers for African American pupils stayed flat, at 68.1 percent, unchanged from the year before.

This compares with the graduation rate among English learners, which increased 2.2 percentage points from the year before and is now at 65.3 percent, and for Hispanic/Latino students, who had a rate of 76.4 percent, up 0.7 percent the year before.

The new data was released by Superintendent of California Public Instruction Tom Torlakson for students who started high school in 2010-11. Overall, 80.8 percent graduated with their class in 2014, up 0.4 of a percentage point from the year before. The California graduation rate has increased substantially since the class of 2010 posted a 74.7 percent rate, said the state department of education.

“Our record high graduation rate is great news, especially since it is occurring at the same time we are raising academic standards,” said Torlakson. “This is more evidence that the dramatic changes taking place in our schools are gradually helping to improve teaching and learning in every classroom. We have raised academic standards, started online testing, given local districts more flexibility in spending, and provided more resources to students who need it most.”

Torlakson also said he believes the extra resources flowing into schools have helped schools add staff and reinvigorate many programs intended to help students graduate. In addition, he said, the collection of more precise data has put a spotlight on graduation rates, helping teachers and administrators adjust instruction for all students, but particularly for those most in danger of failing or dropping out.

The cohort data track graduation rates, dropout rates, and students in a third category: Those still working toward graduation who have not graduated or dropped out. Along with the rise in the graduation rate, the state’s dropout rate also rose slightly to 11.6 percent in 2014, up 0.2 of a percentage point. By comparison, the percentage of students still in school but who have not graduated declined 0.5 of a percentage point from the year before and stands at 6.9 percent.

The drop out rate for Black students edged up slightly from 19.7 in 2012-13 to 20.3 percent in 2013-2014.

The new graduation and drop out rate results came one day after the announcement that California finished sixth in the nation in the percentage of high school graduates from the class of 2014 who passed an advanced placement exam with a score of three or better (the lowest score needed to obtain college credit.)

Although Torlakson is touting the overall upward trend in graduation rates, the numbers for African American students remain problematic. They are slightly ahead of English Language learners with a rate of 65.3 percent and special education pupils who hit 62.2 percent. However, their numbers trail most other student subgroups including migrants (75.8 percent).

For one African American educator, the answer ‘why’ requires a look inward.

Chris Hickey Sr., Ph.D., director of Each One Teach One for Academic Access, suggests what African American students need is a success-going culture that encompasses school, home and the community. This collaborative effort requires parents to go to their child’s school and rather than blame them for the problems, and ask “What can I do to help?”

Hickey, whose educational organization offers free S.A.T. prep classes and parenting workshops, believes that parents need to go to their offspring’s schools to volunteer in a way that does not directly involve their child. “Maybe you can go and help the theater department prepare for a play or help the athletic department even though your child does not play a sport or act.”

When parents do this, Hickey says, school becomes part of the home and parents become part of the school community and students begin to feel an obligation to do well in school. This makes the relationship between parents and schools become much less adversarial, said the educator, who remembers as a student in the second graduating class of Locke High how the school and the community were strongly connected.

Hickey is convinced that teachers and schools want students to meet high expectations, and students want to feel good about their accomplishments at school. He also stresses the need for parents to lead the charge to help schools where African American pupils go, reconnect with the community.